Single, Married, Living Alone: 10 Ways Men and Women Differ

Gender differences in life paths: We now have some definitive answers.

Posted Aug 01, 2020

Is it a his-and-hers world when it comes to marrying, living single, living alone, or living apart from a romantic partner? What about initiating divorce or getting married more than once? We now know, sometimes from studies of more than 100 nations, and sometimes from more than a century of data, that there are gender differences in all of these matters.

Being married or single or living alone is different from liking it. Are there gender differences in satisfaction with marital status or living arrangements? What about widowhood — are there gender differences in bereavement?

These are some of the most fundamental questions about how men and women differ in the paths they take through life and the psychology of their experiences. Here are 10 answers. Perhaps in a decade or so, we will also know about people who do not identify as male or female.

1. Single for Life.

  • Up to age 64, there are more never-married men than women. All through young adulthood and middle adulthood, there are more lifelong single men than women in the U.S.

  • A gender reversal in lifelong singlehood begins at 65. Between ages 65 and 74, there are more lifelong single women than men in the U.S. But the percentage of all men who are lifelong singles is 0.3 greater than the percentage of all women who are lifelong singles. It is not until age 75 and beyond that there are more women than men who have never been married, both in terms of total numbers and percentages.

2. Happily Single. Women like being single more than men do. Studies from Germany, Poland, and the United States show that women are more satisfied with their single lives.

3. Living Alone.

4. Living Alone Happily and Securely. Women like living alone more than men do. They enjoy spending time alone more than men do. They are more satisfied with their friendships. They spend more time pursuing their interests and hobbies. If they are heterosexuals who were previously married or living with a man, they are especially happy not to be doing more than their fair share of the household chores or the work of caring for others.

There is one way that men who live alone have an advantage over women in later life: They are more secure financially. However, this is not specific to people who live alone. In just about every living arrangement, older men are less likely to be impoverished than older women.

5. Getting Married. In the U.S., on average, men are older than women when they first get married. However, that difference has been decreasing over time. For example, in 1900, men were 4 years older than women when they married for the first time. A century later, in 2000, newlywed men were only 1.7 years older than women.

6. Divorce. In heterosexual marriages, women file for divorce far more often than men do. Currently, about 70% of the time, it is the woman who files for divorce. This gender difference has been remarkably consistent for about a century and a half. In 1867, 62% of divorces were initiated by women.

7. Remarriage. Getting remarried is more of a guy thing. Nearly twice as many men as women who were previously married try it all over again (40 out of every 1,000 for men vs. 21 of 1,000 for women, in data from the U.S.).

8. Widowhood. A meta-analysis of 49 studies of people who were widowed found that, on average, the initial impact of the death of a spouse was quite negative for both men and women. However, women tended to adapt to bereavement more quickly than men.

9. Couples Who Live Apart. A study of heterosexual couples in Germany found that one of the most important differences between couples who live together and those who live apart (living apart together, LAT) was the wishes of the women. Women who like their time alone were especially likely to get their way about living apart.

The men’s wishes mattered, too, but in a different way. When men said explicitly that they liked their time alone, but lived with their partners, both they and their partners reported more conflicts in their relationship and less satisfaction.

10. Marriage vs. Single Life. Is it true that single women and married men do best? In a previous review here at “Living Single,” I presented some evidence that women just aren’t into marriage as much as men are, and they do better than men at living single. However, there are some big studies that find hardly any gender differences at all.